It was back in April 2012 that the Elen Drum was born. I did only a little bit of the work but she came to me. The thing she was most upset about was her lacing. I’d thought she was being laced with deer sinew but it turned out she was laced with artificial sinew … not good, not what she wanted. I’ve been waiting and watching for the past three and a half years to din the way to put her right and it came when I last visited Suzi Crockford of Dartmoor Drums to make Roebuck Drum. I’d made Fallow-Kelen, doing most of the work myself, with Ros Simons and learnt quite a lot, working with Suzi last September took me up to a whole other level. I did all the work that day and really grew in ability and confidence, especially in learning how to judge the tensioning. We had left it that I would come back in November to re-do the Elen Drum.
But I got the itch! Roebuck is gorgeous and sings beautifully with me and it made Elen quite frustrated that she still had to wait. She kept on at me that I could do her. It got so I really couldn’t sit still! So I ordered myself a metal ring for her centre – she wanted to be laced that way – and while I waited for it to arrive I put her in the bath and cut the horrid red string. I could almost hear her sigh of relief as I pulled it out and freed her from the artificial stuff.
I was worried in case her hoop might break or come apart while she was soaking her hide free of it, both Suzi and Ros had warned me about this and Suzi had put aside a hoop just in case. When I came to look at her the next morning I took the hoop out and it was fine, I was so relieved, if it had gone then I would have had to wait until I could the hoop from Suzi. But all was well. I felt the drum chuckle as I sighed with relief, ‘I told you it would be OK!’ she flashed at me. ‘OK! OK! I know you know best,’ I told her back.
I spent half an hour of the morning cutting the spare hide I’d put in the bath with her into one huge long inch-wide strip of lacing. That’s quite hard work. I use scissor as it’s really too hard and inaccurate with a knife but the hide is not all the same thickness, some of it is really thick and touch so that is a struggle to cut. My hands and arms were quite sore and tired after I’d done it so I was glad I didn’t have the rest of the work to do until the morrow.
The ring arrived that afternoon so I had everything ready for Saturday morning …
Saturday dawned. I brought her out to the kitchen and laid her on the table, asked her what else she needed. She wanted a scented candle I’d put by along with my wildcat incense, and she wanted me to burn both panther-cap and fly agaric so I got it all sorted and lit, the scent was gorgeous.
Now I wanted to know what material she wanted me to wrap the metal ring with … she chose some crimson velvet I had put by. I was a bit surprised as velvet comes apart and frays easily as well as dripping bits everywhere but she was quite adamant. I wrapped the ring and it worked well despite my fears.
The drum-skin was, of course, pierced with holes for the red string-stuff but the holes weren’t big enough for hide lacing so I had to enlarge them. If I’d thought it out properly I’d have got myself a punch but I hadn’t so I had to woggle each hole with a knife. I managed to slice my left forefinger! It bled nicely which Elen Drum liked, she wanted my blood on her, part of my gift to her. I always give a little blood when I’m making things, it’s part of how it all works for me. Not everyone gives blood but it’s part of my way.
The lacing took time, about an hour and a half or so with the hole-woggling, but eventually I was all the way round … now it was time to begin the tensioning. You go round and round, pulling each lace but not too tight at first, you have to do it slowly. I began my journey round the drum. The lacing was quite slippy and so difficult to pull, I guess this is because of the way the hide was cured, so I used a thin tea-towel to hold it with so it didn’t slip in my fingers. I didn’t count how many times I went round but I think it was about four.
You gauge the tension by listening. At each round you tap the drum and listen. At first the noise she makes is just a “Sog! Sog!” sound, so you go round again, not taking too much but tightening all the time. It came … I tapped her and there it was, a soft “Boom” sound. I tried to see if she wanted another round but she wasn’t having any, not at all. She was done.
The next stage is making the cross and the handle. I stretch the lacing across and began wrapping it in itself to come back. When I got to the centre again I double wrapped and took it at ninety degrees across, wrapped it round the ring and then came back again wrapping it round itself. At the centre again I crossed to the other side so now I had a cross which I wrapped in itself to make it thicker, stronger and more comfortable. Once it’s all wrapped I make the cross around the centre, several rounds and I have the handle and … guess what … the length of lacing I’d cut was exactly the right length. Elen Drum is pleased. I’m pleased.
So she’s done, she has proper hide lacing instead of red artificial sinew. Her tone has, I think, changed a little but we’ll see. She’s sat in the cool, dark scullery drying herself so it’ll be a few days before she sings. And I’m thrilled. I did it and all by myself. And I must thank Suzi again as it was really working with her that gave me the confidence to go for it.